Craft Beer & Cider, Customer Stories

Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse: A Reluctant Farmer Creates an Iconic Agri-Business

Even though Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse founder, Kristen Needham, comes from a family line boasting five generations of farmers, farming was never her plan. Not originally, at least. Today, however, she not only grows over 50 varieties of heirloom apples, but she’s leading a thriving farm-based business. Her Saanich, BC-based farm and ciderhouse produces 7,000 cases of award-winning cider annually and is one of the most popular agri-tourism destinations on Vancouver Island.

Kristen inherited the family orchard in 1986, but it would take twenty years to arrive at the point where she sold her first cider. In those intervening years, she built a career in environmental management and international development. Ironically, this line of work had her working alongside farmers on food security projects—only in places like Ethiopia, not Vancouver Island. Then in 2002, she had a change of heart; maybe becoming her family’s sixth farming generation was the right move for her?

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Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse founder, Kristen Needham

She replanted the family orchard with cider-making apples exclusively, planted a second orchard on her mother’s farm, and bought the farm where the ciderhouse sits. “We took a chance planting only apples that are good for cider,” she explains, “but our farm is perfect for growing these varieties, and they have been the key to crafting award-winning cider.”

Of course, as with any agri-business, the challenges in starting up were considerable. “The first challenge we encountered was too much water in the orchard,” she explains. “We weren’t expecting significant run-off from up the hill. We needed to solve that issue before we could plant our apple trees, so we installed ‘curtain drains’ to divert the excess water.”

Fortunately, Kristen has a CEO’s instincts as well as a farmer’s. “Another challenge was growth! When we were preparing our initial business plan, our goal was to produce enough cider to sell to local restaurants and retailers around Greater Victoria. But demand quickly outstripped our production volume. It made financial sense to expand production, but that meant we had to quickly source additional equipment, more apples, and more staff.”

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As Kristen and her team met these and other challenges with enthusiasm and creativity, the wins started rolling in. “Three of Vancouver Island’s most iconic businesses—the Butchart Gardens, the Fairmont Empress, and Sooke Harbour House —were some of our first customers.”

Then, one of Sea Cider’s most unique ciders, Rumrunner, was poured at Seattle’s first cider festival in 2010. It caused quite the stir. That opened up the American market, where heavy-hitter customers like Whole Foods began stocking Sea Cider’s offerings.

Sea Cider began working with Great Little Box Company/Ideon Packaging (GLBC) when they needed labels for a premium cider. Today, GLBC also produces Sea Cider’s corrugated shippers.

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“GLBC has always had great customer service because they really seem to care,” says Rachelle Landry, Sea Cider’s Production and Supply Chain Coordinator. “They have great communication and work within our forecast to ensure there is always stock for us to have. With all of the supply chain issues that have been going on in the past year we have still been able to rely on GLBC.”

Sea Cider recently launched a line of sparkling non-alcoholic ciders called the Temperance Series, and the team is excited about expanding its reach. And in this post-lockdown market, they are primed to invite more guests to, as they like to say, #celebratewithcider in their patio and picnic spaces. In all things, they’re proud to be working for a, as Kristen puts it, “successful, value-based farm business”. Kristen says her colleagues are what make her most proud.

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We can relate! Our partnership with a business like Sea Cider is a point of pride. It has been for many years and will be for many more.

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